I think it’s fair to say that my son and I read A TON of books together. That being said, it’s no small compliment to say that The True Blue Scouts of the Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt is our hands-down mutual favorite! This book is a frolicking romp through the swamp from two perspectives: that of a teen boy and that of a pair of raccoons. All of the protagonists have the same goal: to save the swamp from imminent development and destruction. How they try to go about doing so, however, is what makes the book so enthralling and absolutely charming!
Don’t tell the kids but this is actually a story about conservation. I’m sure that on some level, they know that, but it’s disguised as an adventure and coming of age story that doesn’t even remotely preach. Two forces of ‘evil’ threaten the swamp: the first is ‘bad guy’ Jaeger Stitch who wants to turn the swamp into Alligator Wrestling Arena and the second is a pack of feral hogs who are on the march and destroying everything in their wake. Attempting to save the swamp are Bingo and J’Miah (raccoon brothers who are the newest Information Officer recruits into the Sugar Man’s Scout organization) and Chap Brayburn (a young man whose mother owns a sugar pie cafe in the swamp area and whose grandfather has recently passed away.)
Tension builds as the raccoon try to wake the Sugar Man (who can save the swamp but hasn’t been woken in decades) and Chap does his best to fight off Stitch. The book has both a folksy feel to it (the audiobook is narrated by Lyle Lovett…OMG!) and great prose. It’s filled with fantastic vocabulary words that are colorful and lovely. We also truly loved the anthropomorphized personalities of the raccoons…one is brave while the other suffers from anxiety. They live in an old rusted DeSoto in the woods that is practically a character in the story itself.
The story is both funny and sweet. I was most impressed by its broad appeal. Not only was my son hanging on every word in this story…I was amused and entertained as well. I loved the characters and their unique personalities as well as the quirky, funny asides that make the story particularly wry!
I also loved the messages that this book conveys. There’s a lot of pluck in the raccoons and in Chap and they have to push through against lots of setbacks in their attempts to save the swamp. Lately, after reading Happy Campers (see this post: https://mamapandabear.com/tag/happycampers/ ) I’m obsessed with the idea of inspiring grit in children. The True Blue Scouts just personifies grit in so many ways!
I also loved the ‘protecting the Earth’ and ‘respecting your elders’ storylines. True Blue Scouts is nothing (as I said above) if not a parable about conservation and Chap’s fight to protect his mother’s bakery and his grandfather’s legacy also plays an integral part in the story. The fact that this book alludes so frequently to caring about things outside of ourselves and outside of the here and now is important to me: I love that this story is about something more than the immediacy of our wants and needs today.
I can’t say enough about Bingo, J’Miah and Chap and I can’t say enough about The True Blue Scouts of the Sugar Man Swamp. It’s charming, endearing and powerful. There’s plenty to enjoy and something to be learned. In the end, I struggle to imagine a more perfect book for the Middle Grade set. Lure them in with laughs and a rolicking adventure…imprint upon their hearts a story with true meaning and grit!
To get your copy today, please click the link below: